CMO Impact
Achieving Personal & Career Success

Why a CMO makes a perfect CEO: Opportunities and Challenges when Making the Switch

August 03, 2017

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Historically, making the transition from CMO to CEO wasn’t a common career trajectory. However, the emergence of Big Data and digital marketing has brought on a shift in business – one that has put marketers at the hub of the business wheel, making them a smart choice for CEO.

“You have to work really, really hard to put yourself in a position to get lucky.” Daniel Schwartz

Susan Lintonsmith, President and CEO of Quiznos, is a great example of someone who has tirelessly worked hard to make that leap, leaving little to chance and fearlessly diving in to make sure she had the background, diverse experience, and leadership skills needed to succeed as a CEO.

She raised her hand to handle key projects (and then knocked them out of the park), covered critical operational duties when a fellow C-suite executive left and the company was struggling to keep expenses low, and made sure she had a great attitude the entire time. And, after four years as CMO of Quiznos, Susan was offered the role of CEO. As this was a career goal she had set her sights on, she naturally accepted.  

So, we wanted to get her unique – and enviable – perspective on why CMOs make great CEOs. Plus, she shared with us a couple of tips to elevate and highlight these CMO skills so that your name comes to mind when that next CEO opportunity opens up.

CMOs…

…Are experts at driving top line revenue

As the CMO, you are already leading key growth projects, which means you are perfectly positioned to understand the business side of the company. Remember to highlight the fact that each moving part of marketing initiatives either directly or indirectly lead to the objective of acquiring and/or retaining customers.

When in meetings with your board and C-Suite peers, remember this latter part and lead with business objectives first, highlighting how marketing aids revenue and brand growth. Speaking your peers’ language will help them understand how important marketing initiatives are for contributing to great sales successes.

Susan pointed out that, throughout her career, she was never afraid to take on more and rise to the challenge. In fact, she was constantly driven to do so. Learning and professional growth happened most when she felt out of her comfort zone – and even in over her head at times. But it was those challenges – reframed in her mind as opportunities to show great revenue results – that propelled her career forward and showed her ability to think not only as a marketer but a veritable businesswoman as well.

…Are natural brand leaders – both internally and externally

As a marketer, you’re accustomed to wearing many hats and inspiring a diverse team of people to work toward that united vision or goal you’ve helped establish.

Those skills will prove ever valuable as you set your sights on the CEO role, where your leadership reach will expand even further to research, operations, HR, product development, financials, sales and beyond. The ability to relate to cross-functional team members and build the bridge to communicate and collaborate will unite the company from the inside out.

Meanwhile, the general public looks to the CEO as the face of the brand, providing a former CMO the opportunity to articulate and amplify the brand purpose, mission and culture they helped implement internally.

…Know customers better than anyone else in the business

Without loyal customers, any brand would cease to exist. Perhaps, no one knows this better than marketers.

We’ve dedicated our careers to understanding, engaging with and providing value to the customers our brand serves. Whether it’s mapping the customer journey, using data to deliver personalized messaging or leading brand loyalty programs, CMOs are the clear customer champion within a brand.

This knowledge is priceless for a CEO to understand. They help align business goals around the customer on a brand level, bringing to life the very mission of creating a customer-centric brand.

The very nature of marketing is a convergence of right brain and left brain thinking (how does the art of storytelling play into the concrete world of data analytics and revenue?) which is a skill to be sharpened throughout your career. For CMOs who have their sights set on the CEO role, their ability to adapt quickly, think critically, and relate to members across all functions will be key contributors to their career success.

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